Is an Obama-Sargisian-Erdogan Summit In the Offing?

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

All signs indicate that the forthcoming Nuclear Security Summit, to be held in Washington DC on April 12-13, will also serve as a forum for a meeting between President Sargisian and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, refereed by President Barack Obama.

Some 40 foreign heads of state will converge on the nation’s capital under the main theme of nuclear security, but each nation has its specific agendas, taking prominence over the main topic.

Much more is discussed on the margins of similar convocations than in the main gatherings.

It will be nine years since an Armenian president has officially visited Washington. This visit by Sargisian is not a state visit, yet the fact that the host is the US President, causes the visit to be bathed in the aura of just such a visit.

Armenia and Turkey have their own particular agendas, which the US government has agreed to review. The Obama administration has even encouraged their participation. Until recently, Mr. Erdogan had not committed publicly, awaiting the evolution of events in Washington, following the March 4 vote at the Foreign Affairs Committee adopting House Resolution 252, which had angered Ankara, thus causing the latter to resort to its traditional tactics of recalling its ambassador for “consultations.”

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The long phone conversation between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was broadly publicized in the media. The content of the conversation was not divulged but speculations point to the fact that once again the Genocide Resolution was the casualty of these political machinations.

Indeed, following that conversation, Ankara not only dropped its objection to Erdogan’s participation, but also authorized its ambassador to return to his post in Washington. Additionally, Mr. Davutoglu has been energized to join Turkey’s prime minister on this trip, because, he asserts, he has a host of issues to settle with Obama administration.

It is obvious that Mrs. Clinton has given the assurances that President Obama, once again, will avoid using the “G” word in his April 24 message, and perhaps instructions are in place for Samantha Power, to concoct a term, in the bunker, to provide a fig leaf to President Obama, hoping to dupe Armenians.

On the other hand it is no secret that Mrs. Clinton, and the president himself, personally are engaged in blocking the passage of the Resolution 252 on the Hill.

All these developments provide a golden opportunity for the Turkish leaders to make their points in Washington, on the eve of April 24.

Armenia’s president is joining this forum voluntarily, whereas the Turkish leaders had to be cajoled into accepting the invitation. The State Department representative, Phillip Crowley, has praised the Turkish leaders for their gracious acquiescence.

If the presumed summit takes place, it may not last more than an hour. We could imagine that issues like the Genocide Recognition and the destiny of Karabagh deserve only 60 minutes among a host of world issues, whereas, for us, they are a matter of life and death.

Prior to this Washington trip, there was some tough posturing by Armenia and Turkey in the European media. Indeed, the German paper Der Spiegel had interviewed Prime Minister Erdogan and President Serge Sargisian about key issues pitting the two nations against each other. Mr. Erdogan had reiterated his obscene remark that Turkey’s history was “spotless” while Mr. Sargisian had asked the rhetorical question: how come former Yugoslavia’s ethnic groups are entitled to independent statehood and not Karabagh?

Although the Protocols are at a deadlock, Mrs. Clinton seems to be hopeful of their revival. Turkey has raised one excuse after another not to approve the Protocols and Armenia has decided to wait until the Turkish parliament approves the Protocols.

Mrs. Clinton had made the Protocols one of the centerpieces of her foreign policy achievements, hoping to resolve a century-old impasse.

President Obama’s invitation would have been a welcome breakthrough for Sargisian, had it not been impeded by domestic turmoil. Indeed, the major opposition group of Levon Ter-Petrosian has been gaining some momentum in asking for the president’s resignation, compounded by a new development heralding former President Robert Kocharian’s comeback. It is being rumored that Kocharian had stalked the president in Paris, asking to be named prime minister. Recently, he gathered a group of oligarchs in Dubai with the same agenda. Tacitly simmering conflicts between Kocharian’s party (Prosperous Armenia) and Sargisian’s party (Republican) have come in to the open, although both are still part of the ruling coalition. The ARF (Dashnag) party is cheerfully anticipating a Kocharian comeback, harkening back with nostalgia to the gravy train.

Turkish leaders know as every other statesmen in Washington that Armenia’s president is heading to the summit with domestic worries on his mind, not the least of which is the war cries from across the Azerbaijani border.

No one should be surprised if President Sargisian returns empty handed from this forthcoming summit.